Christmas tree commemorates fallen officers from 2017

NILES­ — Police officers across the nation who lost their lives will not be forgotten this year, after a Niles dispatcher sought to find a way to commemorate their sacrifice.

Displayed inside the Niles Police Department at 1600 Silverbrook Ave., the blue glow of Christmas lights illuminates a tree filled with ornaments. While it might not seem that out of the ordinary given the season, a closer look reveals that each ornament bears the name of a fallen officer or canine who died in the line of duty across the nation this year.

The inaugural end of watch tree was created by Niles dispatcher Courtney Donahue. The tree branches hold a number of black and silver ornaments with officers’ names, end of watch and the department served. The tree is topped with a Niles police officer hat.

“I wanted to do something to showcase how many officers lost their lives on the job and find a way to honor them,” Donahue said.

So far, 118 officers and 20 canines have died in the line of duty — too many for the branches to hold.

“I was only halfway through the ornaments when the tree was already full,” Donahue said.

Among the names are three officers from Michigan, including Deputy Sheriff Eric Overall, from Oakland; Michigan State Trooper Tim O’Neil, of Metamora and officer Jonathan Ginka, of Norton Shores. One Michigan canine, Ori, also died in the line of duty.

Niles Police Department Sgt. Scott Swanson said seeing the tree filled with so many names is a reminder of the sacrifice officers face each day. 

“It really puts it into a perspective that the tree is full,” Swanson said. “I thought [creating the tree] was a great idea. A few pitched in, because when you do something of this magnitude, I think people want to be involved.”

While Donahue purchased the ornaments with her own funds, others stepped in to lend a hand, including a dispatcher who donated the tree and others who donated the ribbon, lights and tree stand.

Before taking down the tree, Donahue said she plans to send the ornaments to the posts where the officers honored served.

Next year, Donahue plans to honor fallen officers in the same way, though she hopes to not add any more names to the tree.

Donahue said she hopes that those who view the tree while in the police department take something away from it. 

“It is a tribute not only to the officers that aren’t here anymore, but to the ones who are,” Donahue said. “We appreciate them and everything they do for us and the community.”

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